Finance and insurance managers hold one of the toughest jobs at a dealership.

Customers go to the store wanting to buy cars, not necessarily wanting to purchase F&I products and services.

Some people are downright resistant to add-on sales presentations. Many customers, after picking out a car, aren’t interested in hearing about extended service contracts, maintenance plans, wheel-and-tire protection packages and the like. Those can be tough sales.

Yet, the F&I department remains a strong dealership profit center, as evidenced by the annual WardsAuto F&I 150. An old adage in the business: “Nothing happens until the car is sold.”

Besides diligence and salesmanship, F&I job skills include making sure a car deal complies with all sorts of government regulations. In Texas, a dealership needs to complete up to 45 documents on a vehicle transaction.  

WardsAuto asked some of the nation’s F&I managers and trainers what it takes to succeed, what’s the hardest part of the job and what is the best career advice they’ve received. Here is what they had to say.

“You need patience and above-average problem-solving capabilities,” says Steve Sipes. “I happen to be very good at problem solving.” Patience is something he must work at, he admits.

“The hardest part of the job is the multiple directives we are given,” says Richard Wentz, F&I manager at Shields Automart in Paxton, IL. “Are we sales people? Yes. Are we managers? Yes. Are we there to protect gross or add to it? Yes (to both).”

He describes the hardest part of the job as “helping customers understand what it is they are signing, especially since it can require 30 signatures to process a deal.”

A well-functioning F&I manager has “an exceptionally high amount of self-respect and a strong moral fiber,” Wentz says.

Arranging loans for credit-challenged customers presents challenges on different levels, he says. “At times, we deal with people who either don’t understand or choose to ignore the fact that they have put themselves in a less-than-favorable financial situation, and they take it out on us.

“We do it with a smile, and ask for more. I treat everyone the way I want my mom to be treated.”

F&I work requires long hours “but the rewards are plentiful,” says Rebecca Chernek, a former F&I manager who now heads Chernek Consulting. “Be consistent in the offering of your products and never take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Good communication skills are essential, not just in dealing with customers “but the entire sales team,” she says.

Trainer John Vecchioni agrees. The sales and F&I departments sometimes can miscommunicate and seem at cross-purposes. The hardest part of the F&I manager’s job is “organizing salespeople with your process,” he says.  

The job comes with some headaches but “basically, if you aren’t having fun, you are in the wrong business,” says Dina Gilbert Wilson of Timbrook Automotive in Cumberland, MD.

She tries to put customers at ease using humor as well as telling them “I am going to make everything as easy as possible,” she says. Her advice to colleagues: “Don’t be so serious.”

Integrity is essential and paperwork is the hardest part of the job, says Rodger Martin, business manager at Stan McNabb Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in Tullahoma, TN, near Nashville.

His dealership’s general manager, Trey McNabb, gave Martin what he considers the best advice: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. In other words, don’t judge your month by one or two deals.”

Vecchioni, national trainer for F&I product provider United Car Care, adds: “Never does one car deal make a career. So do the right thing.” A dealership general manager told him that, back when he was working in the F&I office.

If the job is a marathon or race of any kind, it requires paying attention to both physical and mental needs.

“Some managers take their health for granted,” Chernek says. “You can quickly put some weight on in the F&I department. “Take time to walk around the dealership. Drink lots of water. You’ve got to keep your energy high in F&I, for sure.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com